Libya’s Congress elected Ali Zidan as interim prime minister earlier this week after the previous PM, Mustafa Abushagur, was dismissed from the post for not presenting Congress with a Cabinet political factions could agree on. Zidan is now tasked with forming an acceptable Cabinet.
Zidan received his support largely from the liberal coalition, the National Forces Alliance, and beat the preferred Muslim Brotherhood candidate by a narrow margin of 93 to 85. The new PM has said he will be mindful of the views of Libya’s Islamists, but that is unlikely to calm the Islamist militias demanding a role in the country’s future.
Newly elected Libyan interim Prime Minister Ali Zidan.
Indeed, at the forefront of Libyans’ minds, and those in the West, is security. Post-revolution Libya has been under threat from lawlessness and armed militant factions. That threat was brought home to the U.S. on September 11, 2012 with the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi. Less reported, however, was this week’s jail break in Tripoli — the second to occur this year. The inmates escaped after guards allegedly accepted bribes to release them, highlighting the weakness of Libya’s security institution.
Last month, Congress reportedly approved the Obama administration’s request to shift some $8 million from Pentagon operations and counterterrorism aid for Pakistan to building an elite counterterrorism unit in Libya. Still in its planning phase, a final decision on the program is expected by the end of the year with trainers on the ground working with initial units within 12 months. The $8 million is considered seed money for the program.
Libya can now either pivot closer to democracy or closer to anarchy. Western influence may ensure the training of adequate forces for the short term, but the direction that Libya will take in the long term remains in its citizens’ hands.